Sony

Sony – İngilizce ileri düzey okuma parçası (advanced reading)

I had decided during my first trip abroad in 1953 that our full name – Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo Kabushiki Kaisha – was not a good name to put on a product. It was a tongue-twister. Even in Japan, we shortened it sometimes to Totsuko, but when I was in the United States I learned that nobody could pronounce either name. The English-language translation – Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Company – was too clumsy. We tried Tokyo Teletech for a while, but then we learned there was an American company using the name Teletech.

It seemed to me that our company name didn’t have a chance of being recognized unless we came up with something ingenious. I also thought that whatever new name we came up with should serve double duty- that is, it should be both our company name and our brand name. That way we would not have to pay double the advertising cost to make both well known.

We tried a symbol for a while, an inverted pyramid inside a thin circle with small wedges cut from the sides of the pyramid to give us a stylized letter “T.” But for our first transistors and for our first transistor radio, we wanted a brand name that was special and clever and that people would remember. We decided our transistor radio would be the first consumer, product available to the public with our new brand name on it.

I thought a lot about this when I was in the United States, where I noticed that many companies were using three letter logotypes, such as ABC, NBC, RCA, and AT&T. Some companies were also using just their full name as their logo. This looked like something new to me. When I was a boy, I had learned to recognize the names of imported automobiles by their symbols, the three-pointed star for Mercedes, the blue oval with Ford in it, the Cadillac crown, the Pierce Arrow arrow, the Winged Victory of Rolls-Royce. Later, many car companies began to use their names together with the symbol, like Chevrolet, Ford,

Buick, and others, and I could recognize their names even if I couldn’t actually read them. I pondered every possibility. Ibuka and I took a long time deciding on a name. We agreed we didn’t want a symbol. The name would be the symbol, and therefore it should be short, no more than four or five characters. All Japanese companies have a company badge and a lapel pin, usually in the shape of the company symbol, but except for a prominent few, such as the three diamonds of Mitsubishi, for example, it would be impossible for an outsider to recognize them. Like the automobile companies that began relying less and less on symbols and more and more on their names, we felt we really needed a name to carry our message. Every day we would write down possibilities and discuss them whenever we had the time. We wanted a new name that could be recognized anywhere in the world, one that could be pronounced the same in any language. We made dozens and dozens of tries. Ibuka and I went through dictionaries looking for a bright name, and we came across the Latin word sonus, meaning “sound.” The word itself seemed to have sound in it. Our business was full of sound, so we began to zero in on sonus. At that time in Japan borrowed English slang and nicknames were becoming popular and some people referred to bright young and cute boys as “sonny,” or “sonny-boys,” and, of course, “sunny” and “sonny” both had an optimistic and bright sound similar to the Latin root with which we were working. And we also thought of ourselves as “sonny-boys” in those days. Unfortunately, the single word “sonny” by itself would give us troubles in Japan because in the romanization of our language, the word “sonny” would be pronounced “sohn-nee,” which means to lose money. That was no way to launch a new product. We pondered this problem for a little while and the answer struck me one day: why not just drop one of the letters and make it “Sony”? That was it!
The new name had the advantage of not meaning anything but “Sony” in any language; it was easy to remember, and it carried the connotations we wanted. Furthermore, as I reminded Ibuka, because it was written in roman letters, people in many countries could think of it as being in their own language. All over the world governments were spending money to teach people how to read English and use the roman alphabet, including Japan. And the more people who learned English and the roman alphabet, the more people would recognize our company and product name-at no cost to us.

We kept our old corporate name for some time after we began putting the Sony logotype on our products. For our first product logo, we used a tall, thin sloping initial letter inside a square box, but I soon realized that the best way to get name recognition would be to make the name as legible and simple as possible, so we moved to the more traditional and simple capital letters that remain today. The name itself is the logo.

We managed to produce our first transistorized radio in 1955 and our first tiny “pocketable” transistor radio in 1957. It was the world’s smallest, but actually it was a bit bigger than a standard men’s shirt pocket, and that gave us a problem for a while, even though we never said which pocket we had in mind when we said “pocketable.” We liked the idea of a salesman being able to demonstrate how simple it would be to drop it into a shirt pocket. We came up with a simple solution. We had some shirts made for our salesmen with slightly larger than normal pockets, just big enough to slip the radio into.

The introduction of this proud achievement was tinged with disappointment that our first transistorized radio was not the very first one on the market. An American company called Regency, supported by Texas Instruments, and using TI transistors, put out a radio with the Regency brand name a few months before ours, but the company gave up without putting much effort into marketing it. As the first in the field, they might have capitalized on their position and created a tremendous market for their product, as we did. But they apparently judged mistakenly that there was no future in this business and gave it up.

Our fine little radio carried our company’s new brand name, Sony, and we had big plans for the future of transistorized electronics and hopes that the success of our small “pocketable” radio would be a harbinger of successes to come.
In June 1957, we put up our first billboard carrying the Sony name opposite the entrance to Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport, and at the end of the year we put up another in the heart of the Ginza district of Tokyo. In January 1958 we officially changed our company name to Sony Corporation and were listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange that December.

We had registered the name Sony in one hundred and seventy countries and territories and in various categories, not just electronics, in order to protect it from being used by others on products that would exploit the similarity. But we soon learned that we had failed to protect ourselves from some entrepreneurs right at home in Japan. One day we learned that somebody was selling “Sony” chocolate.
We were very proud of our new corporate name and I was really upset that someone would try to capitalize on it. The company that picked up our name had used a completely different name on their products before and only changed the name when ours became popular. They registered the name “Sony” for a line of chocolates and snack foods and even changed their company trade name to Sony Foods. In their logo they used the same type of letters we used.

In those days we sometimes used a small cartoon character called “Sonny Boy” in our advertising. The character was actually called “Atchan,” and was created by cartoonist Fuyuhiko Okabe of the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun. The bogus Sony chocolate merchants started using a similar cartoon. Seeing this stuff on sale in major department stores made me sick with anger. We took the imposters to court and brought famous people such as entertainers, newspapermen, and critics to confirm the damage that was being done to us. One witness said he thought the appearance of Sony chocolate meant that the Sony Corporation was in financial difficulty if it had to resort to selling chocolate instead of high-technology electronics. Another witness said she had the impression that since Sony was really a technical company, the chocolate must be some kind of synthetic. We were afraid that if these chocolates continued to fill the marketplace, it would completely destroy the trust people had in our company.

I have always believed that a trademark is the life of an enterprise and that it must be protected boldly. A trademark and a company name are not just clever gimmicks-they carry responsibility and guarantee the quality of the product. If someone tries to get a free ride on the reputation and the ability of another who has worked to build up public trust, it is nothing short of thievery. We were not flattered by this theft of our name.

Court cases take a long time in Japan, and the case dragged on for almost four years, but we won. And for the first time in Japanese history, the court used the unfair competition law rather than patent or trademark registration laws in granting us relief. The chocolate people had registered the name, all right, but only after our name had become popular. In trying to prove that the name was open for anyone to use, their lawyers went to the major libraries of the country to show that the name was in the public domain, but they were in for a shock. They came away empty-handed because no matter what dictionaries they went to they could not find the word Sony. We knew they would discover that; we had done it ourselves long before. The name is unique, and it is ours.

On our thirty-fifth anniversary, we thought we should consider revising our trademark. Styles and fashions were changing in clothing, in product design, and in virtually everything, so we thought that perhaps we should consider changing the style of the letters of our name. We held an international competition, and we received hundreds of suggestions, along with hundreds of pleas from our dealers not to change. After reviewing all the suggestions, we decided not to make any changes. S O N Y still looked very good to us, and we decided, as they say today, that there was no point in fixing something that was far from broken.

(From Made in Japan by Akio Morita)

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